Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the African Wildlife Foundation as the African Parks Network.
Hillary Rodham Clinton has agreed to take up the public fight of saving African elephants, who are being slaughtered in large numbers to supply the growing demand for ivory in China and other Asian countries.
Clinton, who met privately with representatives from a dozen environmental groups and National Geographic at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Central Park Zoo on Monday, pledged to use her political connections as America’s former secretary of state to enlist other world leaders in the effort to curtail the illegal ivory trade.
Cristian Samper, WCS president and CEO, said in an interview that elephant poaching has reached such a crisis point that the world’s leading conservation groups are launching a coordinated strategy to address the problem.
Clinton agreed to “take some very specific steps, including using her political contacts with heads of state in trying to raise awareness about this issue,” Samper said. “This is an issue that needs to be elevated, not just in terms of public awareness, but particularly with the political leaders in other countries.”
As the demand for ivory has grown in Asia — where the ivory from a tusk can sell for $1,000 a pound — the poaching of African elephants has exploded. Roughly 30,000 African elephants were killed illegally in 2012, according to the World Wildlife Fund, the largest number in 20 years.
There were roughly 1.2 million elephants in Africa in 1980, compared to roughly 420,000 last year. The African forest elephant, which resides in the Congo Basin and is smaller than the renowned savannah African elephant, has been hit particularly hard. This spring, WCS estimated that the population of African forest elephants plummeted 76 percent in the last decade.
“The fact that we’ve lost three quarters of the elephants, it’s alarming and clearly we have to do something about it,” Samper said.
As secretary of state, Clinton showed an interest in the plight of African elephants, hosting a conference on the issue in Washington last year. Clinton declined to comment Tuesday.
John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General.of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), welcomed Clinton's involvement in the issue.
“The magnitude of the threat requires a commensurate response from enforcement-related bodies and personnel at all levels - national, regional and global," Scanlon said in a statement. "In particular, we must use our collective efforts to help national enforcement officers deploy the same suite of tools used to combat other types of crime."
The groups at the meeting — including the African Wildlife Foundation, the American Association of Zoos and Aquaria, Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy, TRAFFIC and WWF — agreed to pursue a three-pronged strategy aimed at stopping the killing, trafficking and demand for elephants.
Two weeks ago, President Obama launched a major initiative aimed at curbing wildlife trafficking, creating a Cabinet-level presidential task force charged with devising a national strategy and pledging $10 million in technological and training assistance to African governments so they could better combat poaching.